ISTANBUL: President Tayyip Erdogan said on Sunday that Turkey had begun operations in Iraq’s Sinjar region, an area where it has threatened a military incursion, two days after sources said Kurdish PKK militants would withdraw from the area.

“We said we would go into Sinjar. Now operations have begun there. The fight is internal and external,” Erdogan told a crowd in the Black Sea province of Trabzon, without elaborating on what operations he was referring to.

Iraq’s Joint Operations Command denied that any foreign forces had crossed the border into Iraq.

“The operations command confirmed that the situation in Nineveh, Sinjar and the border areas was under the control of Iraqi security forces and there is no reason for troops to cross the Iraqi border into those areas,” it said in a statement.

Sources in Sinjar said there was no unusual military activity in the area on Sunday.

The Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) has waged an insurgency against the Turkish state for decades. President Tayyip Erdogan said last week they were creating a new base in Sinjar, and that Turkish forces would attack if necessary.

Sources in northern Iraq said the PKK would withdraw from Sinjar, where it gained a foothold in 2014 after coming to the aid of the Yazidi minority community, who were under attack by the militant Islamic State group.

Turkey to target town of Tal Rifaat in Syria

Turkey on Sunday said the northern Syrian town of Tal Rifaat would be the next target of its cross-border campaign after the capture of Afrin from Syrian Kurdish militia.

“God willing, we will ensure this operation achieves its goal after taking control of Tal Rifaat in a short period of time,” President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in the Black Sea city of Trabzon.

On January 20, Ankara launched an air and ground offensive in the enclave of Afrin in Syria to root out the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) there, which Turkey brands a terrorist group, but which is seen by the United States as a key player in the fight against IS jihadists.

On March 18, Turkish forces and their rebel allies took full control of Afrin, with the YPG largely withdrawing without a fight.Afrin’s capture is seen a major step forwards for Turkey as it seeks to bolster control along its border in northern Syria.

Erdogan has repeatedly suggested that the Turkish campaign in Syria could now extend up to Qamishli — the most easterly Syrian town held by the YPG before the Iraqi border.

Published in Dawn, March 26th, 2018